We're trying to settle back down here at ALLi Towers, after an exhilarating and exhausting three days at London Book Fair (LBF). It was wonderful to meet so many members and other writers and publishing people there. As you'll see below, we partied and networked, taught and learned, and did our bit to forward the good cause of author empowerment.
The first time I attended London Book Fair (LBF) it was as a literary agent who was also, primarily, a writer and I was shocked by the absence of authors from the proceedings. That was 2006. Last year, when a small group of us gathered at London Book Fair to launch The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), we felt we were doing something almost revolutionary, to be bringing self-published writers into the commercial heart of the industry.
What a difference a year makes in publishing these days. This year, LBF saw ALLi take centre stage for the launch of our book, Choosing A Self-Publishing Service, in The Author Lounge. We had Mark Coker and Steena Holmes at The Digital Minds Conference. Joanna Penn and I gave seminars as part of the Love Learning series. There were ongoing panel talks, advice and workshops in The Author Lounge. Good friends of ALLi including David Gaughran, Brian Felsen of BookBaby, Mark Lefvebre of Kobo, and Thom Kephart of Amazon congregated to help us celebrate our book launch and first birthday. And, most importantly, almost 100 ALLi members turned out over the three days (a special thanks to Mick Rooney for coming all the way from Amsterdam) to meet, connect share and — as ever with indie authors — learn from one another.
2013: The Year Of The Author
Everybody was talking of 2013 as “the year of the author” at LBF, of how authors are moving to the heart of the fair, and to the heart of publishing (as if they should ever have been anywhere else). It was undeniable. Authoright curated the Lounge with a non-stop, stimulating stream of packed out events, and authors were clearly avid to connect. On more than one occasion, bouncers had to come and move people away because the area was becoming a fire hazard.
The Lounge was dubbed “the beating heart of LBF2013” and a comment we heard over and again was: “We're going to need a lot more space next year”. I agree.
I would also dearly like to see more space given to hands-on learning and education around writing, reaching readers, and self-publishing.
LBF, like all such fairs, is full of service providers touting their wares. As the bottom falls out of the trade publishing market, more and more services are specifically targeting authors as a revenue stream.
But if putting the author at the centre of the fair is to mean more than selling us services, we need to understand, and then feed back, what we'd most like to experience in the Author Lounge — what would be most useful and beneficial to writers and readers.
And that includes writers who are already doing it well. While the line-up at the Lounge was super-interesting if you were starting out, most ALLi members were very au fait with the concepts and tools being discussed. I'd love to see a second, Pro Author Lounge, at LBF, and at all book fairs and literary events. Such a venue would be packed with indie authors who, when it comes to knowing how to harness technologies and reach their readers, are way ahead of trade published authors, and the trade itself.
A Creative Industry
The book business lost its way when it put commercial concerns ahead of the creative, now there's an opportunity to redress that sad imbalance — not just tilt the commerce towards a new customer, the author.
Too often, we find author services throwing smoke and mirrors and mystique around the technologies and processes of publishing (…all the better to sell to you, my dear…). Quality education, on the other hand, costs little and delivers much. It takes no more than two hours to equip a writer with the tools needed to go away and self-publish successfully.
Another part of the author-services equation is writers who underestimate their own abilities, or overestimate the challenges involved. The shift in power towards writers is making many people uncomfortable — and that includes many writers.
It's an old story: with power comes responsibility and that can be scary. It can also be exciting and extremely rewarding, as so many self-published writers ably demonstrated this year.
ALLi will continue to offer the best guidance it can along the way, not least with Choosing A Self-Publishing Service: The Indie Author Guide. And to push for real change in the direction of author empowerment.
Which, for the trade, must mean more than seeing us as a new selling opportunity.
Next time: The Author as “Entrepreneur”.